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When tragedy forces a marketing pause

Marketing Bites: Ladd Biro, founder of restaurant-centric public relations firm Champion Management, talks about the importance of mindful marketing when devastation strikes.
Ladd Biro, founder Champion Management
Photo courtesy of Champion Management


Marketing Bites

Welcome to RB’s weekly roundup of the latest developments in restaurant marketing.

I spent a bit of time Tuesday afternoon writing up a quick, fun little story about a well-known limited-service restaurant chain’s wacky marketing promo.

The piece was embargoed until 5 a.m. the next day, so I set it to publish then and forgot about it.

Not long after, the world became aware of the tragedy unfolding in Uvalde, Texas, in which a gunman murdered 19 elementary school students and two adults.

The marketing person for the restaurant brand I’d written about emailed that evening to say the story was being pulled until a more appropriate time—a completely understandable move, obviously.

But how do marketers and brands decide when it’s OK to resume advertising efforts after such a tragedy? And what immediate steps should they take with their clients when such a horrifying thing occurs?

Ladd Biro founded Dallas-based public relations firm Champion Management 20 years ago, and the company has a long roster of restaurant clients, including Raising Cane’s, Golden Corral, Tim Hortons and Bar Louie.

When any sort of local or national devastation occurs, Champion first tells its clients to hold any non-essential messaging, such as press releases, email blasts, digital campaigns and spots on local TV.

The length of the marketing blackout depends on the nature and scale of the tragedy. Biro recalled that advertising efforts were silenced for weeks after the terrorist attacks of 9-11.

On Wednesday afternoon, for example, I couldn’t find a single major restaurant brand that had posted anything on Twitter in the preceding 24 hours.

“It’s really about being sensitive and understanding that people don’t want to hear about your LTO when tragedy strikes,” Biro said. “It’s never wrong to pause on marketing in the face of a tragedy. The only mistake you can make is pursuing your brand goals too soon or in a callous way. Something that seemed funny or clever yesterday when you planned it out can be insensitive or downright awkward the next.”

In the days that follow, marketing plans will need to be evaluated on a local basis, he said.

Restaurants with locations in San Antonio, near the school shooting, would likely want to hold off on marketing efforts longer than others.

“Everything is on hold for now until we feel like the time is right to get back out there,” Biro said. “That probably will happen more quickly in markets other than San Antonio.”

Champion never advises its clients against delivering an “authentic message” during times of tragedy, he said, but it must fit with the brand’s identity.

“Everybody is tired of thoughts and prayers,” he said. “I would not recommend a generic statement.”

Once the initial horror of a tragedy has passed, Champion often works with its clients on spreading the word about relief efforts. That might take the form of publicizing free food to those impacted by a tornado or, in this case, participating in a fundraiser for devastated families.

“The first thing we’ll talk about is, ‘Let’s pause,’” Biro said. “The second thing is, ‘What can we do to help?’ We’ll work with them to publicize relief efforts. We will always rally around to help our clients do the right thing.”

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